In Istanbul, there’s fear. Fear of an expected apocalyptic earthquake not so much as fear of the recent strokes of genius of ISIL’s propaganda & public relations cracks. A guy with a cheap shirt, an IS media officer, threatened to attack and “liberate” Istanbul unless Turkey abjures from using their power over the waters of the euphrate* to pressurize ISIL in Raqqa. Syrian-based terrorists creating paranoia is not specifically the number one topic in Istanbul’s streets, but it is one more piece of a jigsaw, contributing to what I call the “chain of lame”. Syrians get discriminated against in Turkey because people are afraid they’d take their jobs and blow up shit. Meanwhile, Turks get discriminated against in Germany because people are afraid they’d take their jobs and blow shit up. Meanwhile, Germans get discriminated against in Switzerland because Switzerland ist kind of the top of the food chain when it comes to believing you could do fine without the rest of the world and migration in particular. Chain of lame. Remember it.
I actually think ISIL knows the ways of spreading news about themselves rather well, for example in their usage of social networks (they appear to have a huge amount of zombie twitter accounts, for example). Then again, they have it easy.
In 2013, I celebrated halloween here in Istanbul. Me and one of my flat mates were the only ones who dressed up, though, she as a witch, and me as an Arab. Whenever someone would ask me why I dressed up as an Arab for halloween as Arabs aren’t specifically scary, I would routinely reply “Arabs aren’t scary? Did you check out the news in the past twelve years?”.
Now, very obviously, the vague social constructs referred to as Arabs and Muslims may be somewhat overlapping, but aren’t nearly the same thing. Just as for example Jews and Israelis aren’t, students and potheads aren’t and Robert Downey Jr. isn’t, in fact, Iron Man. But in all cases, both entities are associated with the same or similar respective stereotypes. And here’s what makes it easy for ISIL to find willing recipients for their propaganda; media and people love talking about radical Muslims. This is now news; I’ve heard a few times that Westerners shit their pants whenever someone mentions Islamists, Sharia etc., but I think it’s not really that. Instead, Westerners just like all humans enjoy to shake their head over the conceived backwardness of others and adjust their collars in blissful ignorance whenever they’re encountering strange cultures. It’s no different in other societies, so I wonder which aspects of Western culture are being exploited in foreign language media to make people feel better. I think it’s sexual freedom in Russian and general decadence in Arab papers, but I can’t read either language, so hell do I know. Anyways; bearded hoodlums with shabby clothing cutting of heads of journalists? Exactly what the Western reader requires to feel superior over barbarian desert dwellers.
What caught my interest though in media coverage of the war in Syria and Iraq was the inflational presence of Western converts (in this case including individuals who converted from a less radical interpretation of Islam to an extremist one) in all sites I’m viewing regularly – which are quite a few. The amount of such converts fighting for ISIL or similar groups is in the low or medium four digits, as part of a faction no-one knows the size of, probably not even ISIL. Besides PR, European converts appear to be used as low file fighters or workers, it seems, but again, the situation is grim when it comes to exact numbers and reliable sources. Luckily, exploring how ISIL works isn’t the idea behind this article.
A survey in Germany showed that most of the converts joining the fight in the Levant are male, young and have experienced failure at some point in their educational carreer. Undoubtedly, questions need to be asked. Why is the youth being radicalised, how were they made feel excluded from their native (i.e. European) socities, how can we prevent this etc. But reading the articles one at a time, it appeard to me as if those issues aren’t the key to the absurdly intense coverage of radicalised youths and ISIL. Instead, I got the impression that many journalists wondered how they could make the crisis in the Middle East more interesting for their respective audiences. You know, religious groups we never heard of slaughtering each other, unprecedented violence, Arab guys with little fashion sense threatening each and everybody, yeah, we got that. A direct link to our everyday lives was desperately needed. What’s closer at hand than brisking up conservative fears of terrorists lurking between us? Our youth, our most precious, being seduced my turban-wearing hate preachers in the midst of our society. That’s what evidently makes people read news. ISIL, apparently, knows this. A rapper originating from Berlin shooting music clips about successful ISIL-campaigns, an Austrian breakaway tweeting about how his scorn against not being including turned him into an ISIL fighting machine. That’s the stuff. And the more this is received in Western media, the more ISIL – just like Al Qaida in the past – can profilate itself as the bane of the Western world, your alternative if you really want to show it to the people who wouldn’t let you participate.
Actually, to harness the awesome power of stereotypes, ISIL should make their executioners eat kebab while beheading people. You know, just so that fat white viewers can relate oriental terrorists to minorities in their home countries even more easily, thus discriminate more and fueling conservative parties embracing in the make-belief danger connected with strange people and cultures and thus spawn more potential fanatics here and there. That’s what I call legit media advice.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul and any placeyou can find to it’s west as well, the events connected to ISIL deepen the dangerous predjudice towards anyone from the Middle East.
*Turkey has power over the waters of the euphrate because of a controversial dam upstream from Raqqa and on Turkish soil, not because of Erdogans majestic water bending skills.